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Indirect Advertising Censorship in Korea – Tiffany Quach
Indirect Advertising Censorship in Korea

Indirect Advertising Censorship in Korea

I enjoy Asian music, mainly Korean pop music, therefore I follow a bit of Korean culture. I have noticed that as I watch some of their shows, there’s a lot of censorship. Whenever an actor/actress wears a shirt that displays a logo, or there’s a sign in the background of the scene they’re in, it is often times blurred out or there’s a sticker put over the image because in Korea, indirect advertising is not allowed. In my opinion, blurred images draws more attention to the object. I find myself zoning into the blurred images, curious as to what it actually is. Another example that I see often is the logo to cellphones are often blurred. I don’t think this is that effective because everyone knows that if it is a candy bar style phone with a full keyboard beneath the screen, that it is a Blackberry. Cellphones are very distinct in their shape and design so to cover the brand name or logo doesn’t do much, the viewers would still know what phone they’re using. However, I suppose it works in the sense that they aren’t outwardly shouting that they are advertising the phone to viewers, even if it draws viewers’ attention. This doesn’t just apply to television though, it also goes into the music industry. If the lyrics mention any type of brand name, they often do not pass through the standards of broadcast (this includes TV and radio) and therefore is rejected and not aired. For example, singer Se7en’s song Money Can’t Buy You Love” and boyband SHINee’s song “Love Still Goes On” were banned from MBC (one of Korea’s broadcast stations) because Se7en mentioned Guess and Gucci, while SHINee mentioned Facebook.

The thing about the censorship though is that it looks as though it ruins production value. It probably doesn’t and it probably saves these directors and staff money by not showing the product, but sometimes it just looks cheap. Especially since they go out of their way to blur out almost everything. Most, if not all, dramas are filled on location, so there’s going to be a lot of brand named stores, which all get blurred out. So it just looks a bit distracting when you’re focusing on the two characters, and in the background, there’s blurred out signs.

For us in America, this seems a bit odd. We’re used to seeing everything we’re meant to see. Product placement is natural for us and we see it in movies and TV shows without a problem. It’s often a quick shot or a quick screen pan over the product, so it’s not like the product placement ruins the production value of the movie or show. There’s even times where people might not even notice it because it’s so subtle. And in the music industry, we’re allowed to mention brand names, stores, etc without a problem.

I have to say though, it seems that Korea may be becoming a bit more lenient on the censorship, based on the recent drama I watched, Rooftop Prince. I don’t know if other shows are doing this, but they actually showed the characters use the Samsung Galaxy Note and it’s features. They literally zoomed in on the character’s movements, when they used the drawing feature of the Note and viewers actually got to watch them use a product. It was the first time I’ve actually seen product placement in a drama. And it was quite nice to see that maybe Korea is changing it’s policy just a bit, but it may be too early to tell because I haven’t seen any others that have followed this example.

I read this website Korean Sociological Image #32: Censorship & Indirect Advertising where the author, James Turnbull, shares point of view on this subject. He even mentions what the laws regarding product placement is, and it’s quite interesting. He also provides other examples with video links. His blog is definitely worth looking at if you’re interested in anything about Korean gender issues, advertising, and pop culture. (Disclaimer: there may be inappropriate/shocking posts. Read at your own discretion!)

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